To Consume is to be Consumed By Bhakti Patil

In our Monsoon issue we raised a debate and requested our readers to respond to it. There was a LIC ad using a child as a smart consumer. Is the market colonizing every sphere of life? Is it something that should concern educationists? Here is a response—a brilliant response—by an alert reader—that throws new light on the way the notion of childhood is altering fast.

                                      To Consume is to be Consumed  

                                                      By Bhakti Patil

The spectre of our times, our splendid affliction, I believe, is little more than the meticulous consecration of us. Of course, we seem to live in times with many a malady, pathologies that seek out our bodies and minds, and that remnant of soul- but none as relentless, none as pernicious as that revelry of ourselves. In the paraphernalia of our profligacy, in the tedium of the carousal, so often are its pathologies forgotten, stifled in the cacophony of being, in the hubris of our vaunted selves. And yet, the affliction renders asunder so much of us, so many of us.

For we cannot cease to despair. The story of our self-love is also a story of enduring anguish, of unremitting fear. In a time so scrupulously profaned, there is little that resounds the sacred or the sentient. Even that burgeoning self that must now seek its own selfhood rummaging through the debris of being, of lives strewn in a landfill of commodities and transacted intimacies. A despairing self then, remains nevertheless, a consuming self. It is in the act of consumption, in acts of consuming more precisely, that we seek out our telos, seek to reaffirm the truth(s) of our remarkable selves.
It is in and through consumption that we seek to triumph the last of the mutineers: time. It is in consuming that our little selves find both a counterfeit sovereignty and a semblance of perpetuity. But consumption is always total. It leaves little untouched, and is always its own sovereign. To consume is to become in and of consumption. To consume is to be consumed. And in as much as we do not cease to consume, we do not cease to become our appallingly excessive, profuse selves. Transacting, investing, insuring, we fanatically seek to procure intimacies, to contract security and affection(s) with the exact instrumentality of commerce. Its dividends too are surplus- intermittent certainties of belonging, the callous freedoms of the market and the sordid imperishability of a commodity. In the copious scrapyard of deeply fissured selves, we lumber under the pledge of the purchase. A broken humanity with a broken progeny.

We imprint onto and through our children the many endorsements of the market. Like us, they learn already that intimacy is little without the veneer of purchases and transactions. Like us, they bargain and haggle for people and things, for affections and belonging, for the leftovers of a selfhood that was. Like us, they hopelessly seek in the measure of things, the rapture of being.

And yet, the little girl in the picture speaks to me of a different world. She confounds time- she is what we were, but also what we might become. In that, she is prior to, and exceeds always, the tragic fate of us. In the spontaneity of her laughter, I see the last bastion of truth: ebbing, nevertheless, as it is consumed by a time that does not cede. In the tenderness of her touch, and contained in the metaphor of the feather, the market seeks to speak to us of an abiding authenticity. The child and the mundane morality of the child-like, is now co-opted by the market. It speaks to us of being most utterly benign in its urges, like the profound simplicity of a child.

It is typical of our times then that there is little that is educational about our education. Its structures and practices contain the ruthless instrumentality of ourselves, debasing in a language of achievement and expediency the little worlds of our children- of play and wonder, worlds of fantastic possibilities and of so many questions. In a time when schools increasingly resemble the factory and the market- the quintessential metaphors of consumption- there is yet however, much that can be undone. Much that is made possible. By a pedagogy that does not fear, that converses with the many little worlds, speaks and listens to them unafraid of dismantling itself. For a reformed progeny is possible only in and through a reformed adulthood. When we as educators and learners cease to be our predatory selves.